Category Archives: Conferences

Europe 2012 – Day 22 – IAJGS Day 1

Welcome to the IAJGS 2012 conference from Paris, France.

I don’t have much to say about the first day since I didn’t go to any sessions except the opening one. I’ve seen a lot of people I know and met some new ones already.

I found out that I was on the same flights as Alex Dunai and his wife. I thought it might have been him, but my distance vision is getting worse and I wasn’t about to approach strangers in Ukraine if I was wrong – how could I explain it to them?

French is definitely easier to deal with than Ukrainian, so that’s a nice change.

Europe Research Trip, Summer 2012

Well, it’s finally happening. I have booked my flight to Europe. Since I procrastinated enough, the trip is coinciding with the IAJGS conference, thus, I’ll be finishing my European tour there.

My whirlwind tour of Europe will be to all of my ancestral locations, as much as I know them now. I’m obviously hoping to find more when I’m there. In Poland, I will be researching in Kalisz for my Halpert and Szleper families, Rutki for my Mularzewicz family, Wizna for my Kurlender family, and Lomza for records for the two. In Ukraine, my family is from Mukacheve, Kopynivtsi, and Zubivka. And in Moldova, my family was from Otaci (Ataki) and there are a few records in the capital of Kishinev.

European Research Trip, Summer 2012

Yes, there is a bit of distance between those locations. I think my biggest challenge, besides the languages, will be getting to Moldova. The trains in Ukraine seem a little screwy. I hope they’re not as complicated as they seem online.

For quite a while, I have been trying to learn Polish. At this time, I have found a really great method to learn to speak Polish, but I don’t know that I’ll be any good at understanding when other people speak Polish. I might also go through the Russian version of the same method before I get there; I have it ready to go.

This is my first venture to Europe, besides the week in England when I was 12. I’ve never been to these archives and I’m not sure what I will find. I certainly hope everything works out well and I get access and find the records that I need. Although cautious about it, I am willing to take on some client work, especially to help pay for the trip. If you need research in any of these locations or others along the way, contact me and we’ll see if we can work something out. Otherwise, I’m sure I’ll be going back again in the future.

The Nitpicker’s Critique of RootsTech

I had a great time at RootsTech. Besides all the issues that annoyed me, I knew I’d see a lot of people I know and meet a lot of people I previously only knew online. For me, genealogy conferences have really become about seeing the people and not about the conference itself; all the conference does is bring all the people to one place.

That being said, the nitpicker can’t help but critique things. Note that these are not in any kind of order of best to worst or anything, just as I thought of them while typing.

1. For the first keynote, I was delegated to another room because the main ballroom was full. The Salt Palace is a very big building. Couldn’t they have found a part of it big enough for everyone? I was late to the second keynote but got into the main room. I watched the third online from home. Apparently fewer showed up each day, but I did not like the first day being split up. Also, it might have been nice to have the Who Do You Think You Are? viewing there instead of trying to cram everyone in to the FHL. The overcrowding I expected was one reason why I helped arrange for a more private party (which probably turned out multitudes better).

2. The developer’s challenge was greatly improved over last year for a number of reasons. FamilySearch employees were excluded last year, thus limiting the entries. However, one rule this year was vague and not followed by half or possibly more of the participants (and the judges). I spoke to the person in charge and confirmed that I understood the rules as they were meant: create a brand new program, not submit something that’s been in-progress or already completed. He also said they will be more clear next year. I did like the idea that the first place winner was a brand new program, whereas most if not all of the other finalists were in development for much longer. Still, a big improvement over last year, with only three entries.

3. I could count the female developers in the sessions on one hand. Were they in other sessions or were there that few female developers? I wonder if something can be done to attract more. I wonder if the guys in the room were looking at us like we were lost. I did like that many developer sessions were easier to understand and not technically ridiculous, or maybe I chose my topics better this year. I thought some were labeled incorrectly when they said intermediate as they were incredibly beginner for developers, but they would have been advanced for users.

4. One speaker was a no-show. There was no indication that the session was cancelled or that anyone from RootsTech knew he wasn’t there or going to be there. However, it did turn into one of the better conversations at the conference.

5. The mobile app was good and also seriously lacking. It was not created exclusively for RootsTech, but by a company who does this, and some parts still were non-functional. Also, it was released about a week before the conference and should have been tested and released sooner. I got a notification about an additional update that had to be downloaded from the market the day after the conference. (It might have been out the day before, but that’s #7.) Also, notifications about updates took me to the web browser and never to the store to actually update the app, which was wrong. I could go into a lot of details about the app problems, but I’ll skip them and hope the company cleans up their code by next year. The schedule was the best part of it. I could choose the sessions I was most interested in and see them on my schedule.

6. The big white board of unconferencing sessions was labeled as February 3rd and 4th, though it was actually the 2nd and 3rd. I added one session to my schedule and missed it by a day. If the app had been filled in with the sessions (and wifi worked so it updated), I could have just chosen it from the list and it would have landed in the right place.

7. Wifi was abysmal. Even when I was connected, I often couldn’t even send a single tweet. Many times, I wanted to tweet “Hey, this speaker is really great!” By the time I had tried sending for 30 minutes or more, that tweet had always morphed into “The wifi sucks.” Sometimes the tweet never got through. Sometimes I couldn’t even connect to the wifi. Usually, I could find at least a dozen hotspots, so many others were activating those to have access. Please, RootsTECH, get your tech improved. I could stand next to the router and not even see the network in some rooms. Apparently the vendors had to pay dearly for their wired connections and even those were problematic. If the Salt Palace has bad hardware, RootsTech should provide their own. The FHL has good connectivity, so I know that FamilySearch can figure out how to make it work.

8. In 2011, there was a closing session. In 2012, it just kind of ended and everyone had to slink away. I think I preferred the first year for that; gave it closure and gathered everyone together to say goodbye. (In 2011, I was so tired, I just tore out of there after the session to go home to sleep, but still…)

9. Some of the handling of the official bloggers could have been better. Having been (kind of) asked in 2011 to be official in 2012, I was disappointed not to be included. When I asked why, I never received an answer. They asked for more blogger suggestions, then more ethnic bloggers, and still I didn’t even get a response. I had a discussion with Paul Nauta about it, which un-annoyed me a bit. If every conference promotes the same official bloggers every year, the others never have a chance to catch up in popularity and readership. It occurred to me after talking to him that I don’t think they had an official blogger who is a developer, so they had no one reporting from that side of the conference. Maybe they should take that into consideration for next year too, and not just who blogs the most and has the most readers. It doesn’t help if all of the official bloggers are blogging about the same sessions.

10. I had an interesting discussion with two other developers when a speaker didn’t show up where this topic was discussed. One of the goals of RootsTech is to bring together genealogists and technologists to learn the needs of the other. But how does that actually happen when the users are going to the user sessions and the developers are going to the developer sessions? Personally, I can just talk to myself, because I’m a user and a developer, but few people can really say that. Also, I don’t use all the apps, so I don’t know what the genealogists need, and I’ve fallen a bit behind in technologies that the developers would know about — so I really need to talk to both. Instead of separating us out by sessions, there needs to be something that literally brings us together: a social event or maybe some kind of game, or speed “dating” of sorts. Put us in a room, let everyone be labeled user or developer, and force us to talk to people on the opposite side about appropriate topics. I understand the unconferencing was better for this also, but alas, the one I had picked out ended up on my schedule on the wrong day.


So, in order to improve for RootsTech 3.0, I suggest that they be far better about responding to emails, be more clear in the rules about the developer’s challenge (and the judges should follow the rules as they were written and intended and not accept the entries that break the rules just because they’re good), make sure the mobile app creators can create a functional app instead of the partly broken thing they released, possibly try to reach out to more female developers, really bring the genealogists and technologists together (not just by being in the same conference center), and get serious about providing reliable Internet connectivity to everyone everywhere at the conference.

I can’t wait to see everyone again next year. And a few more people who didn’t make it this year. Or at other conferences this year. Who’s going to other conferences? I think I will be.

RootsTech, Day 3

Though I was up later other nights, last night my eyes just couldn’t stay open even long enough to post some photos. It was a less busy day. I stayed home for the keynote, arriving later for a couple sessions. I skipped one and the other speaker was a no-show, but three of us sat in the room and had a nice, off-topic conversation about development.

I stuck around after closing to watch what happened with the MyHeritage balloons. I witnessed the carnage of the deaths of more than half of them. Then I headed south to Janet Hovorka’s house for dinner. I had no idea how many people she had invited, and was surprised that I was one of the earliest arrivals, having left at least an hour after the conference ended. I met even more people, including Jim Ericson, where we discussed the developer’s challenge a bit. I learned some interesting details about last year too.

In the end, of course it all turned out great. No matter how annoyed I was at a variety of things, I knew I’d still enjoy myself since, for me, it’s not about the conference, it’s about all the people I get to see there.

RootsTech, Day 2

Sometime after posting yesterday’s blog post, I realized how many people I met in the media center that I didn’t mention. But I’m so tired now, if I tried to list them, I’m sure I’d miss most again. I went to some more developer sessions. One was great, one was not. I was the only woman of about three in one (so that makes twice) and the only woman in the boring one; I also left that one early.

I seem to have a lot of overexposed pictures today, along with plenty of blurry shots too. Not sure if I just shot badly or was tired and couldn’t see what I was doing.

Caroline Pointer had mentioned wanting a Who Do You Think You Are? viewing party, along with the drinking game, in a hotel bar or someone’s room. Terryn Barill heard this and immediately called her hotel, the Peery, for permission to take over the TV in the bar. We invited the bloggers and a few others and had a blast. Back at the FHL after, I kept Daniel Horowitz company for a couple hours.

RootsTech, Day 1

I can’t begin to list all the people I saw and the new ones I met. I didn’t get pictures of a lot. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be even more snap happy with the camera. I also have a lot of blurry ones today. I wasn’t allowed in the media hub, but later I got past the guard dogs while they were talking and sat in for a while with the bloggers. Finally met Caroline Pointer, Denise Levenick, saw Thomas MacEntee, Amy Coffin, Kerry Scott, Ancestry Insider, Randy Seaver was in there, Pat Richley, and I’m certain about twice as many as I’ve mentioned. Later, I was spotted by Terryn Barill and Brooke Ganz.

I went to a developer session of about 60 people and I think there were maybe three other women; I could only see the backs of their heads, but was sure at least one was. I verified it was Brooke later.

Overheard at the after dinner event:

“Sweet potatoes are a lie.” – Daniel Horowitz
A French cat food story – Steve Morse

If only I could remember every word that was said, that list would be so long. After the comedian, Daniel wanted a steak. The rest of us (six of us) just went to keep him company and had a great time. I also learned that I am now the very last person to be using Eudora; Daniel has switched to Gmail.

RootsTech, Day Minus 1

Genealogists have been coming to SLC for a week. One person today thought she came in early by arriving the day before the conference. That was cute.

Let’s see, who did I see and meet today?

Carol Starin, Elise Friedman, Jill Ball, Robert Ball, Randy Seaver, Russ Worthington, Jan Brandt, Elyse Doreflinger, Jan Meisels Allen, I saw Elise and Elyse meet (so cute, I should have gotten them to pose for a picture), Pamela Weisberger, Steve Morse, Dan Lynch, Daniel Horowitz, Mark Olsen, and Yuval Ben-Galim.

Yep, it was a fun day already.

GenAssist – RootsTech Reject

RootsTech has once again put me in a bad mood. They’re getting too good at this. This time, it’s the developer’s challenge. The challenge was to imagine and then write a brand new program in less than two months. And I got started late. Looking at the finalists, I’d say that either some of them have been working on their programs for more than two months, or I have been left in the dark ages of web programming.

I’m not sure what I was thinking. The prizes are pretty significant this year. Maybe I should have looked at this program as if it was my full time job and put that much effort into it. Maybe that’s what the finalists actually did. Or maybe I somehow knew that I would be left in the dust in the end, so I didn’t.

Either way, I created a program to help beginning genealogists: the people that have just gotten started and found sites like FamilySearch and Ancestry, or maybe a few more, but don’t really know what they’re doing; the people that haven’t been to conferences, webinars, or society meetings; the people that want to know their genealogy but either don’t know how or don’t want to take the time to learn.

Genealogy research is a puzzle. Not only are there methodologies to learn, but you must also learn what records are available. Were your ancestors in Florida? Did you know there are state censuses for 1935 and 1945? Certainly a beginner wouldn’t know. So how does a new genealogist easily find out what’s available?


In order to research your genealogy, you have to know how to do the research, to know what to look for, and to know what records are available. With GenAssist, you just enter the information about an individual and it will suggest document types in which you might find your relatives.

And while it’s telling you what records to search, it is also teaching you. It will explain why to search for certain records.

However, my program has been left in the dust of this contest. The judges found an error and only informed me when I pestered them that they were behind schedule to announce the finalists. They also hadn’t entered the sample information, because my database is extremely limited at the moment. When they finally entered the sample data, they didn’t do it correctly. (When I say to enter 1980, 1908 will not produce the same favorable results. Genealogy and programming are both more precise than that.)

Therefore, I am opening it up for you to try. Login with username “blog” and password “gjg” (without the quotes). Try the “View History” to see the two sample entries, so you can get an idea what kind of data is already in the database. Then add your own if you like. Keep in mind that your individuals are recorded and visible in the history, and this is a shared login for whoever reads this blog post, so don’t use the living. Besides, you probably won’t find much about the living in my database.

Remember that this is just what I got done in about a month in some spare time. Clearly it is nowhere near complete, nor is it incredibly pretty, because I spent my time on the cool programming part instead of the web design part. There is almost no error checking, so don’t test if it can figure out your misspellings. But let me know what you think of it and if I should keep working on it. I do have a lot more ideas for it (you’ll find some on the “RootsTech 2012″ page), besides the obvious of filling in the database with genealogy record data.

Also, I will likely not leave the login open for very long. Since my blog gets a lot of spammer comments, who knows what they’ll do to my program.

So, is my program worth working on more? Or should I let it fade away into oblivion?

SLC 2014 – Planning Begins

I had a couple of meetings this week with Hal Bookbinder and Michael Brenner, my co-chairs for the IAJGS conference in 2014 in Salt Lake City. I met up with them at the Hilton for a tour of the facility, to refresh our memories from the 2007 conference held there. They were running late, so I joined them for lunch first. After the tour, we discussed many details and brainstormed quite a bit. Hal and Mike were the co-chairs for the 2007 conference, and I was involved as Resource Room coordinator, so we all have many things still relatively fresh in our minds from that conference.

We discussed asking some of the specific volunteers to step up again in their jobs because they did good the last time, and we discussed using different volunteers for some other things because of the things they had done since 2007. I learned a lot more about what goes on behind the scenes to plan a conference.

Some of the things we discussed, I responded with, “if all goes well with UJGS…” A few days earlier, UJGS had our first board meeting. Ever. All three of us. So my small board is now aware of our goal of pushing for more local membership and some of the ways we want to go about doing that. With our plans, hopefully we’ll have a few volunteers in our society who already have some of the contacts and experience to step into these conference supporting roles with almost no extra effort.

The next morning, we had a meeting at the Family History Library to let them know we were coming and to coordinate a few things with them.

It feels like a good start. I finally felt like I was included in the planning. We all seem to work together well and generally agree on things. I look forward to losing giving much of the next two years to the conference.

IAJGS – Wrapping Up, Photos

I’ve meant to write this blog post for over a month. The IAJGS Conference this year was all about socializing and meetings. I spent a lot of time sitting in the hallways talking to people I knew and meeting new ones. I spent a lot of time in the Vendor Room because some of the vendors are my friends. I think the final tally was 1.5 lectures, 6 meetings, and 2 computer labs that I taught.

What did I accomplish on this trip?

1. I went to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum with my roommate, Elise. We were helped by Jo-Ellyn Decker. I remembered her from a previous IAJGS conference. She could tell that we were genealogists and computer literate, so she went over everything very quickly instead of coddling us with simple things that we already knew how to do. Of course, when she walked away, we had multiple databases open and had a hard time remembering everything she told us, so we just started searching in whatever was there. I was able to find a few things and we called her back later to help explain more. I think I need to do a little more research on doing research at the USHMM before the next time I go back.

2. I met new people and talked to a lot of people I already knew. I went to meetings of genealogists with common interests. I learned new things and brought home some new ideas. And I took notes and suggestions for the conference that will be in Salt Lake City in 2014.

3. I got to see Washington, D.C. again. The first time I was there was in 1994. It was one of my excursions during a break in my college schedule. I’m sure I drove everywhere. This time, I walked and rode the Metro. I have pictures from every side of the White House. I walked to the Lincoln Memorial (oy, my poor, aching feet; I was in pain for days). I took the architectural tour at the Library of Congress. I went to the Air and Space Museum, again, albeit quickly. I walked through the Sculpture Gardens. I saw the new World War II Memorial. And I walked past random interesting looking buildings and memorials between The Mall and my hotel.

4. I took more pictures at this conference than any previous, and yet I still wish I’d gotten a lot more. Also, many didn’t come out very good. Why is it that I can’t find a digital camera for a reasonable price that can take decent indoor shots? I did get some good ones. And lots of pictures of before and after the conference.